Colorado Springs Gazette
June 25, 2008
By Doug Lamborn
The day after the recent landmark decision by the Supreme Court granting the constitutional right of habeas corpus to unlawful enemy combatants, I toured Guantanamo. The strongest impression one gets there comes not from the guard towers and concertina barbed wire, but from the stark contrast between the commitment to the rule of law by American military personnel on the one hand, and the implacable hatred and opposition to civilized norms by terrorists on the other.
While there, I met some of our nation’s finest young men and women, including some from this district. They are doing their utmost to carry out their mission with a high degree of excellence and honor. They, and the officers commanding them, want to be able to look back with pride when they tell their grandchildren they served at Guantanamo.
Most of the 269 detainees currently at Guantanamo are hard-core proponents for the destruction of the American way of life. I saw how they have organized themselves into cells much like al-Qaida cells. They look for opportunities to injure and kill American guards, in the hopes of provoking a rash response that would hurt America in the eyes of the world.
Some detainees want to commit suicide to both gain martyrdom in their warped view of Islam and to give more ammunition to critics of the U.S. To protect them from themselves they are issued blankets and garments that cannot be torn into strips. Each detainee is observed every three minutes, and hunger strikers are force-fed nutrients to keep them alive.
Detainees are provided better medical care than most Americans receive. Specialized medical equipment and doctors are brought in for virtually every health need, including fitting prosthetics. The nutrition is such that many put on weight. I had the same lunch the detainees were getting the day I was there and it was better than what I usually eat in Washington, D.C.
Religious and cultural sensibilities are respected. Detainees are given appropriate clothing, beads, caps, prayer rugs and Korans. I saw an arrow showing the direction to Mecca provided in every room for prayer, which is allowed for 20 minutes, five times a day.
Despite the unyielding defiance by many detainees, some are cooperating and are giving useful information even years after the fact. Interrogations are voluntary, a fact known by few. Harsh interrogations took place far away on the battlefield and were carried out by intelligence agents, not military personnel. Interrogators at Guantanamo rely on snacks, movies and persuasion to glean information.
More than 500 detainees have been released from Guantanamo. All of those released, and many more of those still confined, profess innocence or at least that they were just a low-level foot soldier. Almost 40 of those released have been confirmed as returning to the battlefield. One detainee, Abdullah Mehsud, said he was just a cook and driver and was released to another country where he was let go. He subsequently killed a Chinese engineer in an ambush, organized suicide bombings, and later killed himself rather than be taken alive.
The habeas corpus Supreme Court decision handed down a few days ago is extremely unfortunate. This is not because the U.S. will be unable to provide evidence in individual cases to justify detention. Each detainee is there for a reason, and that reason can be documented. The problem is that in some cases the intelligence sources for that information will be compromised if revealed in court. The U.S. will face the tough choice of exposing sensitive sources or freeing a terrorist who wants to kill Americans.
The decision does America harm because it makes us look weak and irresolute to those wanting to destroy us. We are foolishly treating a mortal struggle as a criminal prosecution and not as a war.
The majority in the sharply divided 5-4 decision admits that it is overturning precedent by giving constitutional rights to foreign and unlawful combatants. As Justice Antonin Scalia points out in his dissenting opinion, more rights are afforded to those unlawful enemy combatants who scorn the Geneva Convention than are given to lawful enemy combatants who do comply with it. He goes on to say that Americans will almost surely die as a result of this decision.
Another major problem only exacerbated by the habeas corpus decision is what to do with detainees if Guantanamo is shut down. Military tribunals, which Congress initiated to comply with a previous Supreme Court ruling, are just about to start. However, these trials can be provided for only a few detainees at a time.
Do critics want to simply release all the detainees? That would be horrible. Do critics want to place them in military brigs? No room is available unless a new Guantanamo-like facility is replicated at great expense. Should we send them back somewhere? Other countries do not want to take them for understandable reasons.
Another totally unacceptable solution is to send them into the civilian federal prison system, including Supermax in Fremont County. For one thing, to mix populations like that is a violation of the Geneva Convention. Besides, does anyone seriously want radical Islamists rubbing shoulders with already disgruntled federal prisoners? Do we want them in our own communities for any reason? I will do everything in my power to prevent such an outcome. Some of these terrorists are the most evil people on the face of the planet. We should and must keep Guantanamo open. Lamborn, of Colorado Springs, represents Colorado’s 5th Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives.